I Know I'm Projecting But What Are You

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If you’ve ever erred and written “continental” in a publication when you really meant “contiguous,” you would be like me, I guess.

It’s an easy mistake to make, searching for a term for the lower 48 and grabbing the first one that seems reasonable. I’m aware that Alaska is in North America. Some people from Alaska just had to make me more aware, once. It was kind of funny, and not really embarrassing, although if you took a quick survey of this room I’m currently in, and noticed the globe and various old maps hanging on the walls, you could wonder, sure. Just an error. Kind of a typo, really. Readers were on it.

And some lady once wrote to take me to task for using the word America to refer to the United States, as (weird) people occasionally do. We all get it, understand the name and what it refers to. And we all know that we use America as a figure of speech when it comes to the U.S. Actually, it’s a synecdoche, I think. It’s not a thing, at any rate. Some people want to make it a thing but it’s not really.

Another reader, a few years ago, gently criticized me for using the word crazy, as in “I was hopping back and forth like a crazy person.” She thought it was a derogatory way to refer to mental illness, and I thought about that for a while. I refrained from using the word while I pondered its proper uses, and I decided that crazy is as crazy does. Sometimes I’m pretty crazy, and I’m definitely referring to mental illness, and it doesn’t feel derogatory at all.

Just occurred to me today, that’s all. I was thinking about contiguous-vs-continental. It’s so easy to do. They start at the same place and walk the same way and then, bam. Two different words, with two different meanings. Unfair to a fast writer.

And on May 5, 1945, the only American fatalities as a result of World War II in the contiguous United States occurred in southern Oregon, when a bomb exploded. There were actually no non-contiguous states in 1945, since 48 was all we had, but whatever. I don’t want to get emails.

Archie Mitchell, a Protestant minister, went out for a picnic with his pregnant wife, Elsie, and five Sunday school kids, mostly teenagers, near Klamath Falls, Oregon. I’ve been to Klamath Falls many, many times. It’s firmly in North America.

It’s a horrifying thing to consider, although it seems to have become tinted by historical filters into an oddity and not the tragedy it was. In the last year of the war, Japan had begun sending balloon bombs over the Pacific via the jet stream toward the United States, filled with hydrogen and typically carrying several small bomb devices. Some were found very far east, actually, and in Canada. Only the one exploded.

Archie was unloading the car while Elsie and the kids searched for a good spot for the picnic, which is when they saw the balloon bomb. They ran toward it, and Rev. Mitchell heard the explosion. All six were killed instantly, young lives entering the history books in a very wrong way.

The youngest would have been 84 now. You bet I think about that.

The whole balloon bomb thing is interesting to me. These were the first intercontinental weapons, for one thing. It was the longest-range attack ever, not surpassed until 1982 and the Falklands battles. For our part, American military and political leaders didn’t believe the bombs came all the way from Japan; they suspected they were dropped off on the west coast by Japanese submarines. They didn’t really understand the jet stream back then.

And while we can look at these bombs as desperation moves, the motives were clear: Create terror, start fires, disrupt everything. It was a workable plan, although it turned out to be a failure. Nearly 10,000 of these things were released, and maybe 300 made it all the way, few of them even detonating. Only the six deaths in Oregon. Only.

My mother would have been 8 years old in May 1945. Several of the balloons (which, by the way, were around the size of hot-air balloons we see today) were found in southern California, where she lived at the time. So I think about this sometimes.

Her stories of the war years are similar to others from her generation, people I’m obviously very familiar with. We’ve come to call them The Silent Generation, born from the mid-20s to the mid-40s. They were an unusual demographic bunch, a downward tick, the first generation born in this country smaller than the preceding one. They seemed to be marked by a desire to conform, to get jobs and keep their noses clean, which is where the Silent part comes in. They’ve also been referred to as lucky, since given their chaotic childhoods, they turned out OK. They were teenagers or young adults during the prosperous 1950s, after all.

And they made up the 70- and 80-year-olds in this country during the 2016 election, which has always been a sore spot for me when I listen to my daughter complain about those selfish Baby Boomers and their stupid votes. Um. Don’t look at Mom and Dad, kids; look at Grandpa. He’s the one responsible. Let’s say.

But that’s dumb, and I’m not all that interested. I was interested in hearing Mom’s stories about growing up during the war on the West Coast. I particularly remember her talking about blackout curtains, which they were required to hang on their windows at night at various times during the war. This was supposedly to make it harder for enemy aircraft to see targets, although technology had advanced so much since the practice was begun (during World War I, in Europe) that it mostly served as a civil defense reminder. There were a lot of traffic accidents and an increase in crime under the cover of darkness, too.

Blackout curtains, though. NOW WE GOT OURSELVES A BLOG POST.

How convenient that I bought myself this little projector to watch big-screen stuff in the privacy of my own little study/den/writing room in the month of May, as we march toward the solstice at this latitude. We get a lot of daylight up here this time of year, and it’ll feel that way until October.

The window in this room faces due east, which is not bad for this; I’m not going to sit here and watch movies all day long.

But it’s still hard to get the light dim enough to achieve the full benefit, so I’ve got a black cloth draped over the window at the moment, waiting for a proper curtain rod.

John and I played some old video games on this projector the other day, which was fun. Speaking of generations—my particular cohort, or age group, came up at a strange technological time in many ways. We got in on the ground floor of the computer age, for one thing, but a lot of us missed the boat when it came to video games. We were a tad old for the arcades, the precursor to all of this. I remember playing Space Invaders in bars in college, and of course there was Pong, but that was about it.

My gaming life began and ended with Nintendo, then, and Mario, played with my kids and a lot on my own back in those heady days of my early 30s. So we played some N64 games that I remember, although I mostly let him do the heavy lifting. It’s a-Mario, yay.

But we messed with location and distance and light and other adjustments, and I was shocked by how good it got. John and I completely rearranged this room yesterday, maximizing potential, and now I have an entire wall. I sit down (or lie down; I have a futon and know how to use it) and watch a show or film blown up to around 6 feet in height and 8 feet wide. In a small room, that’s an immersive experience, and I’m having a lot of fun. I’ve spent maybe a total of four hours watching in the past few days, but they’ve been fun hours.

My friend/reader Liz made a good point when I wrote about this the other day. It was definitely a rediscovery of the basics of a particular passion, and I’m grateful for that, although there’s a bit more to it. It’s the same sensation I have sometimes at night, when my wife brings a bowl of popcorn to bed to eat while reading. There’s a joke here about proper bed hygiene, but the smell—my God, the smell. I love the smell of popcorn, because it makes me think of the movies. And the movies make me think of being a child, which makes me remember popcorn, and so on. This is a complete experience, me and my dumb little projector.

And it’s not unlike one of the other trivial aspects of my remarkably dull life that I can dwell on and enlarge to more than they really are. I really just take walks. I get wonky and obsessive about weight and health and fitness because that’s something I can control, and I began doing it when I needed to find something controllable. It’s not a mystery to me.

Neither is the pleasure I get from this new toy (and the toyness is a plus). Again, I haven’t gone deep into compulsive watching; I’ve spent more time straightening up this room than watching. I’m not going to get sucked into sedentary life—more sedentary, I mean—by light and shadows.

But fun, as I said, and the nostalgia tickles me in an important way. As I approach what I’m optimistically thinking of as the beginning of the final third of my life, mortality is obviously on my mind, as is joy. It seems to me that considering the roots of joy in my life is a useful thing, and I know where these roots come from.

Just something about memories, about family, about adventure and excitement and new images and ideas bouncing around a boy’s mind, cowboys and soldiers and absent-minded professors and flimflam men all jumbling together in a mess of happiness.

And all those times, all those movies over the years that I’ve watched and thought, I wish I could have seen that on the big screen?

I’ve got a big screen now. It’s a wall but you know. Kids see things differently.

Chuck SigarsComment